Does It Feel Like Lego Bricks Just Keep Getting More Expensive?

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Lego image CC BY-SA 3.0 Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia Commons

Lego sets aren’t just for kids–and they certainly don’t come at kid prices. I’ve gazed longingly at the “Death Star” and “Imperial Shuttle” kits, the “Mindstorms NXT 2.0,” the adorable “Hogwarts Castle,” and even “The Black Pearl.” But for the combined price of those sets, you could make a mortgage payment.

In fact, every time my husband and I see a Lego display, we comment on how they’re so cool, but so darn expensive. And everyone we knew had piles of them when we were kids–it doesn’t seem like our parents would have bought them at these crazy prices! I decided to compare the inflation-adjusted prices of Lego sets over the years to see how big the difference was.

As it turns out, after going up in the 70’s and 80’s, the average price per brick has actually been trending down. I sampled the prices of sets through the years as listed on brickset.com from across themes and set sizes. To try to make it an apples-to-apples comparison, I excluded minifigs by themselves, accessories, promotional items, games, or anything that required batteries, as well as Mindstorms, Duplo, and non-brick items. Here’s how the data graphs:

lego price/brick graph

One factor that is not accounted for here, which is harder to track, is price/weight. Many people believe (and have observed in their own purchases) that price-by-weight is more consistent than price/brick (i.e., is that a set with 10 2×4 bricks or 10 4×6 bricks?). Prices in any given year are also subject to the changes in oil prices, which may be the biggest factor influencing brick price in the coming years…

I have two theories about the cause of the apparent-but-imagined price increases (feel free to chime in with your ideas in the comments). Initially, I thought that licensing costs for names like Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean were driving the prices up–but the licensed sets don’t seem to be any more expensive per brick than other sets. This lead me to my first theory–that these sets seem more expensive because they contain a lot more bricks than sets did when I was a kid. For example, the $399.99 “Super Star Destroyer” contains 3,152 pieces! In comparison, 1975’s “London Bus” had 110 pieces and sold for $49–after adjusting for inflation, that is an appalling $1.87/brick!

My second theory is that, in my childhood memories, I am actually recalling the products of Lego competitors. We had both Lego and non-Lego brand bricks in our house. (Woe be to the kid who tried to stick the two types together: they never come apart.) One of my favorite sets was the Papa Smurf Loc Blocs set (even if one forum poster I came across calls Loc Blocks, “Legos for kids whose parents hated them.”).

On the up side, the bricks are nearly indestructible (as opposed to your feet, should you step on a stray brick in the dark). This means that the old Lego box languishing in your parents’ garage is just waiting to find a new home in your kid’s room, with 100% of the joy that you had the first time around, for absolutely free.

For tons more Lego brick price data, read more below.

Price data

The following tables sample across the price ranges for specific themed sets, based on the data available at brickset.com

Star Wars
Average price/piece: $0.143

Name Year Price Pieces Minifigs Inflation adjusted price Price/piece
Droid Fighter (Ep I) 1999 $6.00 62 0 $8.15 $0.13
Snowspeeder (Ep IV-VI) 1999 $20.00 215 3 $27.18 $0.13
X-Wing Fighter (IV-VI) 1999 $30.00 266 4 $40.77 $0.15
X-Wing Fighter (re-release oromff 1999) 2002 $30.00 267 4 $37.76 $0.14
Mos Espa Podrace (Ep I) 1999 $90.00 896 7 $122.32 $0.14
Naboo Starfighter 2011 $49.99 318 6 $49.99 $0.16
Hoth Echo Base 2011 $89.99 773 8 $89.99 $0.12
Genosian Starfighter 2011 $29.99 155 3 $29.99 $0.19
Super Star Destroyer 2011 $399.99 3152 5 $399.99 $0.13

 

Castle
Average price/piece: $0.183

Name Year Price Pieces Minifigs Inflation adjusted price Price/piece
Escape from the Dragon’s Prison 2011 $19.99 185 4 $19.99 $0.11
King’s Castle 2011 $99.99 933 8 $99.99 $0.11
Prison Carriage Rescue 2011 $9.99 50 3 $9.99 $0.20
Wizard 2011 $3.99 19 1 $3.99 $0.21
Magic Shop 1993 $4.50 47 1 $7.05 $0.15
Medieval Knights 1993 $6.75 41 4 $10.58 $0.26
Black Knight’s Castle 1992 $85.00 588 12 $137.18 $0.23
Knight’s Joust 1981 $16.00 211 6 $39.85 $0.19

 

Town/City
Average price/piece: $0.156

Name Year Price Pieces Minifigs Inflation adjusted price Price/piece
Pet Shop 2011 $149.99 2032 4 $149.99 $0.07
City Airport (re-release of Century Skyway) 2004 $90.00 928 12 $107.88 $0.12
Century Skyway 1994 $109.00 894 12 $166.53 $0.19
Mobile Outpost 2000 $30.00 218 2 $39.45 $0.18
Jet Airliner 1985 $12.75 136 2 $26.83 $0.20
Delivery Center 1985 $25.50 305 4 $53.66 $0.18

 

Space
Average price/piece: $0.176

Name Year Price Pieces Minifigs Inflation adjusted price Price/piece
Alien Striker 2011 $4.99 42 2 $4.99 $0.12
Mini-Robot 2008 $3.49 24 2 $3.67 $0.15
Alien Fossilizer 1996 $6.00 53 1 $8.66 $0.16
Cosmic Cruiser 1982 $11.00 115 1 $25.81 $0.22
Space Cruiser 1978 $10.00 170 2 $34.73 $0.20
Surface Explorer 1982 $7.50 82 1 $17.60 $0.21

 

Pricier sets overall

The sets in the following table are the most expensive sets published in a given year, every five years, until the earlier years, at which point I found less price data was available. Some years may have had more expensive sets, but this is based on the data available at brickset.com. Price/piece does not include minifigs, but the included minifig count is noted.

Name Year Price Pieces Minifigs Inflation adjusted price Price/piece
Super Star Destroyer 2011 $399.99 3152 5 $399.99 $0.13
Mercedes Benz Unimog U 400 2011 $199.99 2048 0 $199.99 $0.10
Robie House 2011 $199.99 2276 0 $199.99 $0.09
Cargo Train Deluxe 2006 $149.99 856 5 $168.48 $0.20
Ferrari F1 Racer 2006 $139.99 1246 0 $157.23 $0.13
Tow Truck 2006 $119.99 1877 0 $134.76 $0.07
Rebel Blockade Runner 2001 $200.00 1747 0 $255.70 $0.15
Darth Maul 2001 $150.00 1868 0 $191.77 $0.10
Metroliner (rerelease) 2001 $149.00 782 11 $190.50 $0.24
Space Shuttle 1996 $158.00 1368 0 $228.01 $0.17
Freight and Crane Railway 1996 $140.00 914 3 $202.03 $0.22
Giant Truck 1996 $139.00 1757 0 $200.59 $0.11
Metroliner 1991 $149.00 784 11 $247.70 $0.32
Rock Island Refuge 1991 $66.00 381 7 $109.72 $0.29
Intercoastal Seaport 1991 $63.75 545 5 $105.98 $0.19
Black Falcon’s Fortress 1986 $35.00 430 6 $72.31 $0.17
Flour Mill and Shop 1986 $26.75 73 2 $55.26 $0.76
Riding Stable 1986 $26.00 275 2 $53.71 $0.20
Castle 1981 $48.00 767 14 $119.56 $0.16
Basic Building Set, 5+ 1981 $38.00 384 2 $94.65 $0.25
Public Works Center 1981 $30.00 421 4 $74.73 $0.18
Building Set, 6+ 1977 $40.00 467 3 $149.45 $0.32
London Bus 1975 $49.00 110 0 $206.22 $1.87
Basic Set #8 1973 $19.00 776 0 $96.89 $0.12
Tipper Truck 1971 $14.00 48 0 $78.27 $1.63

 

Inexpensive sets

The sets in the following table are the least expensive sets published in a given year, every five years, until the earlier years, at which point I found less price data was available. Some years may have had less expensive sets, but this is based on the data available at brickset.com. Price/piece does not include minifigs, but the included minifig count is noted.

Name Year Price Pieces Minifigs Inflation adjusted price Price/piece
Ninja Training Outpost 2011 $4.99 45 1 $4.99 $0.11
Space Moon Buggy 2011 $4.99 37 1 $4.99 $0.13
Speedboat 2011 $4.99 34 1 $4.99 $0.15
Auto Pod 2006 $3.49 56 0 $3.92 $0.07
Robo Pod 2006 $3.49 65 0 $4.92 $0.08
Airplane Mechanic 2006 $3.49 26 1 $4.92 $0.19
Cameraman 2001 $2.00 21 1 $2.56 $0.12
Director’s Copter 2001 $3.00 22 1 $3.84 $0.17
Camera Car 2001 $3.00 20 1 $3.84 $0.19
Treasure Surprise 1996 $2.00 22 1 $2.89 $0.13
Paravane 1996 $2.00 16 1 $2.89 $0.18
Tidy Treasure 1996 $2.00 21 1 $2.89 $0.14
Renegade’s Raft 1991 $3.25 38 1 $5.40 $0.14
Mud Runner 1991 $3.25 34 1 $5.40 $0.16
Screaming Patriot 1991 $6.75 65 1 $11.22 $0.17
Outdoor Cafe with Bonnie Bunny 1986 $2.25 6 1 $4.65 $0.78
Catherine Cat in her Kitchen 1986 $3.35 28 1 $6.92 $0.25
Patricia Piglet at her Bakery 1986 $3.35 30 1 $6.92 $0.23
Knight’s Procession 1981 $5.00 48 6 $12.45 $0.26
Basic Building Set 1981 $9.50 141 1 $23.66 $0.17
Basic Set 1981 $10.00 98 2 $24.91 $0.25
Stage Coach 1976 $5.00 95 1 $19.90 $0.21
Hospital 1976 $15.00 202 7 $59.69 $0.30
Gravel Works 1974 $14.00 211 0 $64.30 $0.30
Basic Set 1973 $16.00 415 0 $81.59 $0.20
Basic Set 1973 $7.00 349 0 $35.70 $0.10
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13 thoughts on “Does It Feel Like Lego Bricks Just Keep Getting More Expensive?

  1. I’m glad you brought this up, because this is what i have been feeling, that the price vs. value of LEGO sets hasn’t really gone up. I think what people see is that some price points have risen. LEGO designs the sets in each theme so that they hit certain price points. That’s why you usually see themes starting around $10, then $25, $50, $70, $100. With certain sets LEGO has found that the market has a place for even some high-end price points, thus you get the $400 Super Star Destroyer or Death Star sets. They either weren’t tapping that high end collectible market before or there were just no consumers in the past that would pay that price for the brick, but there are now. Parents couldn’t walk into a store in the 80s and see a set on the shelf with a $150 price.

    The price/piece ratio has still averaged around the same over time across all themes, even the licensed ones, so it has been getting annoying that people attribute perceived expensiveness of Star Wars or Batman or Harry Potter to them being licensed themes.

    Even if the cost of sets we’re increasing, the quality of the sets has shot up greatly. We’re getting incredible detail on minifigs these days. Bodies with front and back printing, double-sided faces, accessories and piece molds like you wouldn’t believe. Designs are getting better. And so many retailers sell LEGO now that if price is an issue you can always wait for a sale and never pay MSRP for any particular set. These past several years have been a spectacular time to be into LEGO, IMO.

  2. I wonder how much of the perception is based on the size and the type of the pieces. I grew up with the basic sets where pretty much everything was cuboid block, or possibly a door or window – a lot the sets now seem to have a lot of small or specifically shaped pieces – making them feel less reusable outside the actual pattern supplied.

    1. I was going to make this exact comment. The size of the bricks you get these days make it seem you’re getting a lot less for your money.

      Try making a house for your GI Joe with the deathstar kit!

      1. Maybe a better/different comparison to make would be the cost vs weight of plastic in a set. That might not show the same curve.

  3. So you’re saying I’m actually *saving* money by buying all this LEGO now as opposed to a decade or two ago?

    Cool. My wife (and son) will be glad to hear it.

  4. IIRC, there was an interview with one of their designers in the back of the guide to Star Wars kits, and he said that when they were prototyping a new model, the overall weight of a kit was the best indication as to whether they were hitting the price-point requested by the head office. One thing you might try doing (although you’d have to actually have one of the old kits for this) is weighing the bricks in old and new kits, and then determining the cost per oz (or whatever unit you prefer). I think this would probably be a better scale, since the cost per brick could be skewed depending on the average size of the brick in each kit evaluated…

  5. That’s amazing data – and surprising. LEGO star wars has always ‘seemed’ more expensive than other themes but the data clearly shows otherwise.

    I guess the problem is that the big sets are just so darn…awesome….i mean come on, who doesn’t want a Super StarDestroyer?

  6. Agree with Simon. Modern themed Lego sets with a high proportion of custom bricks seem to encourage a lot less creativity than the big sets of generic bricks that came with a book full of ideas for things to build.

    1. This is exactly my issue with Lego, though I love them – and I’m glad that the “Lego Recipe Book” whose title I can’t recall is helping with that. I was frustrated, however, at how difficult it is to get a “just bricks” freeplay set. As a 6th grade teacher, I see my students freak out when I ask them to do pretty much anything creative; they don’t want to draw; they want to use clip art or (marginally better) a light box for tracing (taping clip art to the window works in a pinch). They don’t want to build a freeform structure; they want specific instructions on how to get a particular result. I can imagine the heck my science teaching colleagues go through if their school does science fairs… most kids want projects-in-a-box, at least in my sphere of experience. Sigh. Our kids may be getting smarter, but they’re a darned sight less creative.

      Very disheartening.

      Cashwise, I had to really think long and hard about Legos and Christmas – due to budget issues, Santa will be bringing my five year old son one present only this year: the Ninjago Fire Temple he’s been wanting. At over a hundred dollars, I really had to think: would he rather have a bunch of smaller sets (and keep longing for that big toy), or will (I hope) the plethora of toys my family will be getting him balance things out?

      I’m waist-deep in buyer’s remorse, but at this point, there’s no turning back. And as my husband HATES Legos, the plus side is that my son and I will be getting lots of quality time in the near future!

      Santa guilt.

  7. I remember Lego being very expensive as a kid. It a was precious thing! Every once in a while my mother would buy me another tiny set. The Surface Explorer or something, and it would get added to my big box o’ lego.

  8. Hmmm… after reading this again, I’m envisioning a microeconomy based on Lego blocks. Those highly specialized pieces wouldn’t be worth much in my book – but a nice bucket of 2×6 in rainbow colors would be grand!

  9. It would be cool to see a regression analysis between lego prices against various economic indicators to see what has the strongest explanatory power.

    It’s possible that Lego is making more profit margins by providing more pieces at cheaper $/piece price point in things like Star Wars kits due to improvements in manufacturing. Leveraging the popularity of the movies and people’s belief that bigger is better.

  10. Beyond cool. I ran this through my Econ 101 blender: I’d bet that demand rose through 86 (Boomers having kids) and fell thereafter (Boomers mostly done, curse of video games as substitutes). Anyway, this may show up as an exam problem. LOL

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